Barnes & Noble College Marketing Contact

Marketing to College Freshmen

Even though the first impression of college can often be obtained through an unreliable lens of excitement and anticipation, those early days on campus can also seem a little daunting to many incoming freshmen. There’s the geography of a whole campus to be learned, a class schedule to be acquainted with and new friends to be made. There’s also an unfamiliar course load and sometimes, an intimidating amount of learning materials to come to terms with.
In an effort to give new students an early start with being at home on campus, Barnes & Noble College initiated a series of special VIP Shopping Nights in their campus bookstores last year. Designed as an exclusive shopping night for freshman to help welcome them to their new surroundings, the success of those events has resulted in an even greater number of stores participating in the VIP events — and the response has been impressive.


The VIP Shopping Night events were created as a result of Barnes & Noble College’s research into freshmen concerns. The study revealed that many students found their early days on campus to be intimidating and sometimes confusing, so the VIP events were created as a very different kind of solution. “Essentially, they’re an opportunity for new students to become familiar with their textbook options in an atmosphere that’s specifically tailored to them,” explains Carol Pinto, Project Manager, Consumer Marketing for Barnes & Noble College. “It’s a great way for freshmen to spend time with our booksellers in a one-on-one atmosphere if they’re uncertain about whether they want to buy or rent their books — or to learn about the advantages of digital textbooks for example,” she adds.
With the goal of helping students find exactly what they need for their classes and for their college life, the occasion provides the opportunity to help keep bookstore sales on campus, but Pinto stresses that there’s a lot more to it than just commerce. “This is probably the first time these students have been on campus since orientation, so it’s also a great social occasion — a chance to meet other class members, to find out who else is in their dorm — and it’s also a great opportunity to help build loyalty and trust with their new school,” she says.

Students at Long Beach City College pose for some fun photos as the VIP Shopping event held at the campus bookstore.
While the first year of VIP Shopping Nights was hosted by less than one hundred stores, over 270 events were hosted this year. At Long Beach City College, the Viking Bookstore at the LAC campus was busy with over 250 students who attended the event and participated in a variety of fun activities. “It was a great opportunity to create some camaraderie with the new students,” explains General Manager Dana Heathcott. “They really enjoyed participating in scavenger hunts, a karaoke competition and even a fashion show of some of our school spirit merchandise,” she adds.
The fact that Heathcott puts the emphasis on the more entertaining features of the event is no accident. Getting the new students familiar with all of the resources the bookstore can offer in a creative and collaborative way is the whole point of event. Pinto says the events are important even for smaller stores or those who don’t have promotional budgets. “We created a toolkit for our store managers offering suggestions and ideas for their VIP events, but even without a lot of outlay, there are some great ways our stores have hosted some really successful events,” she says.
From encouraging students to DJ or creating a party music playlist on Pandora, to bringing in food and treats, the events are designed to engage the campus in as many ways as possible. With their audience of students who are unfamiliar with the campus, the VIP Shopping Nights also provide a perfect opportunity for partnering with local businesses to contribute with samplings or goodie bags.


Texas Tech students get their “guns up” at the VIP Shopping event at the Texas Tech University Bookstore.
Texas Tech students have their “guns up” at the VIP Shopping Night event at the Barnes & Noble at Texas Tech University bookstore.

Barnes & Noble at Texas Tech University Store Manager Monica Cowie knows all about the importance of building relationships and involvement on campus. Not only does she manage the campus bookstore that serves over 30,000 students, but she is also an adviser to a campus fraternity and serves on several school committees, including the Welcome Committee. For Cowie, welcoming students begins with the VIP Shopping Night event. “This is our third year holding a VIP Shopping Night and it just keeps getting bigger and better,” she says. “This year, I had more vendors asking me if they could participate and be a part of the event — and we had over 3,000 students attend. It was absolutely amazing!”
Texas Tech students lined up an hour before the event began for refreshments, samples, games, and a chance to win free textbooks for one semester. “Our students love this event because it allows them to see everything the school, bookstore and community has to offer,” Cowie says. “It’s also a great night for students to meet other freshmen and just have fun. Starting college can be a little intimidating for many freshmen and this is a great way to show them there is support on campus.”
Pinto’s aim is to ensure the bookstores’ VIP Shopping Nights become firmly established on the calendar for freshmen orientation, and welcomes increased participation with the campus by inviting student organizations and Greek Life to join in the fun. Future VIP Shopping Nights might also extend to include exclusive evenings for the college faculty or administration, and a chance for them to experience an exclusive night at the bookstore, tailored to their community and to their informational needs.
While VIP Shopping Nights create an enjoyable introduction to both the bookstore and the campus, the events also underline the serious mission of the bookstore. “We want to make sure our students know we’re here for more than textbook sales,” explains Heathcott. “We really want their store to be a place they’ll feel comfortable in and want to keep coming back to.” Students are coming back, as Texas Tech’s Cowie can attest to. “I meet so many freshmen at our VIP Shopping Nights,” she says, ‘so it’s really great when I continue to see those same students come back to my store time and time again — year after year.”

Targeting College Students at Ohio State

By any account, it was going to be a busy week at the bookstore — even by Ohio State standards.

With the campus humming with the activity of a new semester, it was a week where Barnes & Noble at The Ohio State University Bookstore Manager Kathy Smith was anticipating the launch of the new Ohio State Nike sneaker (a very big event on campus), while also hosting Ohio State alumni and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George for an exclusive Direct TV promotion.

And, if that weren’t enough, the bookstore welcomed the National Retail Federation to campus as part of an extensive state-by-state road trip to find the most powerful retail stories across the nation.


The National Retail Federation (NRF) developed the Retail Across America program as a way of showing how retailers from around the country, large and small, are creating jobs, driving innovation and giving back to the communities they serve. The reasoning behind their program isn’t hard to understand given the massive impact retail has on economies and communities. Responsible for 42 million American jobs nationwide, the retail sector supports a quarter of the jobs in the state of Ohio alone, while contributing 18 percent of the state’s GDP.

Heisman Trophy winner and Ohio State alumni Eddie George makes an appearance at the Barnes & Noble at The Ohio State University bookstore.

As part of the Retail Across America program, the NRF dispatched Dylan Lynch, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, on an assignment to obtain a behind-the-scenes view of a variety of retailers in the Buckeye State, including Macys, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Wendy’s, and the nation’s largest full-service grocer, Kroger. Lynch’s reporting also took him to The Ohio State University (OSU) South Campus, to the 50,000 square-foot premier academic superstore and a staff willing to share their retail experiences at their busiest time of the year.
An integral partner of the University since 2000, Barnes & Noble College also manages a stadium store, a store in the student union, and outlets at three other Ohio State campuses. “As the students’ bookstore, we try to be fully integrated into all aspects of our students’ experiences at Ohio State — not just as their textbook provider or game-day school spirit supplier,” explains Smith.
Part of that mission includes constant engagement with the campus community, whether it’s supporting the English Department’s Annual 5K Fun Run, holding student events in the bookstore’s meeting area, or helping freshmen acclimate to their new home through orientation and a VIP Shopping Night. “The story we sought out at the Ohio State bookstore is one that millions of Americans can relate to, but might not see through the lens of the retail industry,” explains Margaret Case Little, Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives at NRF. “Gearing up for the first day of college, ensuring you have the right textbooks and branded t-shirts — it all makes a difference when you’re adjusting to college life,” she adds.
Among the staff interviews at the bookstore, Lynch spoke with Brenna Feeney, a May graduate of the Ohio State retail management program, and was inspired to hear her talk about the store’s impact on campus, saying it is the “school’s greatest resource and an outlet to demonstrate Buckeye spirit.” Feeney’s practical introduction to the world of retail through her campus bookstore was an example not lost on NRF’s Little. “We really enjoyed seeing the integration of current retail students’ training in the store location,” she says. “It’s such a great primer for employees that have found their passion in merchandising, buying, or store design, and who can take advantage of learning in the immediate retail environment.”


As NRF’s partner for Retail Across America/Ohio, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants President Gordon Gough joined the crew on our road trip, including a trip to his alma mater, The Ohio State University.
As NRF’s partner for Retail Across America/Ohio, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants President Gordon Gough, pictured in the OSU bookstore, joined the road trip, including a stop at his alma mater, The Ohio State University.
Through its Retail Across America program, the NRF hopes to localize the retail stories in communities around the country. Searching out the best and most unique stories throughout the United State, Little says they have identified a consistent component to retail success. “One word: passion,” she notes. “A passion to provide value to customers, and, it was obvious after speaking with the Ohio State bookstore employees, that their team has a passion to meet the needs of those students in a big way.”
Bookstore Manager Smith and her staff would likely defer any praise to just how they conduct ‘business as usual.’ Consequently, after all the excitement of just that one long day at the store, the staff was already preparing for a VIP Shopping event exclusively for this year’s new students, while also preparing for Game Day just around the corner. “This is what we do,” Smith points out, with a characteristic cheerfulness in her voice. “Our success is tied to how well we serve our campus — how well we serve our students.”
And if that’s the criteria for success, it would seem that Smith and her staff at the Ohio State bookstore are succeeding on every level.